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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06ADDISABABA1402
2006-05-19 15:00:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Addis Ababa
Cable title:  

TRIAL OF ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITION BEGINS WITH VIDEOS

Tags:   PHUM  PGOV  KDEM  KJUS  ET 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO1027
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #1402/01 1391500
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 191500Z MAY 06
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0665
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 001402 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF DAS YAMAMOTO, AF/E, AND DRL:K.GILBRIDE
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM KJUS ET
SUBJECT: TRIAL OF ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITION BEGINS WITH VIDEOS
OF PUBLIC CAMPAIGN SPEECHES

REF: A. ADDIS ABABA 1231 (AND PREVIOUS)


B. ADDIS ABABA 49

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 001402

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF DAS YAMAMOTO, AF/E, AND DRL:K.GILBRIDE
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM KJUS ET
SUBJECT: TRIAL OF ETHIOPIAN OPPOSITION BEGINS WITH VIDEOS
OF PUBLIC CAMPAIGN SPEECHES

REF: A. ADDIS ABABA 1231 (AND PREVIOUS)


B. ADDIS ABABA 49


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Six months after arrest, federal
prosecutors began presenting the High Court with evidence it
said would substantiate capital charges ranging from treason
and attempted genocide against CUD chairman Hailu Shawel and
other opposition members, independent journalists, and civil
society representatives. The first two weeks of prosecution
arguments have been underwhelming: more than 20 hours of
seized CUD videotapes have shown public campaign speeches by
opposition leaders mobilizing voters to participate in
national elections, as well as town hall meetings in which
local residents throughout the country discuss a littany of
human rights abuses (including detentions, intimidation, and
arbitrary killings of opposition supporters by security
forces). While showing public criticism of the government's
policies, in none of the evidence presented thus far has
there been any call for violence or genocide. Notably, much
of the video evidence features individuals who are not
defendants. Some of the most virulent, anti-government
statements are speeches by opposition leaders who have since
decided to engage the GOE (e.g., Beyene Petros and Lidetu
Ayalew) and who have not been detained or charged with
treason. Prosecutors' arguments are perfunctory, with no
comments or explanation other than a five-minute introduction
before each two-hour-long videotape. Two defense counsels
are representing three civil society representatives, but the
remainder of nearly 90 defendants, who have chosen not to
have counsel, remain unrepresented during proceedings. There
is no cross-examination or rebuttal. So far, the court has
only watched one-third of the 24 videos prosecutors intend to
present; prosecutors have yet to call any of the 367
prosecution witnesses to testify. END SUMMARY.

-------------- --------------
SECURITY CONCERNS MAY HAVE PROMPTED CHANGE OF VENUE
-------------- --------------



2. (U) The case of "Federal Prosecutors against Hailu Shawel
et al" formally began its evidentiary phase on May 8, one
week after the court agreed to an amended charge of
"attempted genocide" against the defendants (ref A). Nearing
the one-year anniversary of disputed parliamentary elections
in which Hailu Shawel and other defendants played a prominent
role, prosecutors moved the trial's venue from central Addis
Ababa (adjacent to Addis Ababa University, where student
protests have occurred in the past) to a remote area near
Kaliti prison, where most detainees are currently being held.
One notable exception is CUD secretary-general Muluneh
Eyoel, listed sixth on the GOE's original list of 131
defendants, who prison officials acknowledge has been
transferred to an isolation cell at Kerchele. Kerchele is
the former central prison that was to have been closed last
year, so its site could be transferred to the African Union
for office space, but which has remained open to house
Muluneh as well as 33 other opposition supporters facing
similar charges in a separate treason trial. Prison
officials acknowledged his separate detention before the High
Court, asserting that Muluneh sought to incite other
detainees and therefore posed a public hazard.


3. (U) Diplomatic observers have resorted to a rotation to
cover what has become daily proceedings; in addition to
family members and local print journalists, an independent
observer from the American NGO Lawyers Without Borders has
also been granted permission to attend the trial, which
remains closed to the general public. A human rights
attorney from the Paris-based International Federation for
Human Rights (FIDH) is also observing the trial for the
European Commission, under terms of reference agreed to with
the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

-------------- -
VIDEOS SHOWN WITH NO COMMENTARY OR EXPLANATION
-------------- -


4. (U) Prior to this evidentiary phase, the case had faced
several lengthy pre-trial delays, including: a nine-week
delay before a bail hearing; and a seven-week hiatus between
the denial of bail and the entry of pleas. On May 8,
prosecutors announced the submission of 24 videotapes into

ADDIS ABAB 00001402 002 OF 003


evidence, each approximately two hours long. Following the
insistence of defense counsels that any video evidence
submitted be shown to defendants and the court, prosecutors
decided to show each videotape in its entirety, rather than
submit excerpts. The result has been nearly two weeks of
daily video screenings of CUD campaign rallies and/or press
conferences, with only brief introductory remarks by
prosecutors, who simply state that the evidence presented
will substantiate the charges made. Once the videotape is
played, prosecutors do not explain the events shown, nor do
they even identify defendants who appear in the tape; in
fact, prosecutors make no remarks at all, other than at the
beginning of each day's screening.

-------------- --
CRITICISM OF GOVERNMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
-------------- --


5. (U) The first video shown as evidence was a 90-minute tape
of a December 2004 CUD press conference, opened by Lidetu
Ayalew (who has been neither charged nor detained)
criticizing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's proposed five-point
peace plan for the Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute.
Defendants Hailu Shawel and mayor-elect Berhanu Nega
criticize lack of consultation with parliament or the public
prior to the introduction of the peace plan; they also
criticize Meles's statement that "any attempt to implement
this (boundary commission) decision would lead to conflict,"
and specifically underscore the need for "a durable peace."


6. (U) The second video featured a 90-minute CUD press
conference from January 2005, in which CUD spokesman Seleshi
Andange reads a written statement detailing harassment,
detention, and arbitary killing of CUD supporters, as well as
voting card irregularities and alleged inaction by the
National Electoral Board of Ethiopia to complaints made by
the CUD. Defendant Hailu Shawel discusses intimidation of
opposition supporters; co-defendant Mesfin Woldemariam
complains of opposition supporters "being hit, being
imprisoned, and being killed," and states that a people under
an "unjust" government must struggle against it. Comparing
the struggle for human rights to that against apartheid,
Hailu states, "South Africa struggled between white and
black; here the struggle is between racists and the people.
The time has come for this government to leave." Hailu then
declares that the CUD will not back out of the upcoming May
2005 elections.


7. (U) The third video presented as evidence consisted of a
140-minute tape of a January 2005 rally protesting the
five-point peace plan. Performances of traditional songs,
dances, and poetry dominate much of the tape; lead defendant
Hailu Shawel speaks for only 10 minutes. Hailu criticizes
the government for lack of consultation with the public, for
dependency on foreign aid, and for ignoring starvation.
Selected remarks in Amharic (translated into English by court
interpreter) include the following:
-- "We must unite to overcome slavery."
-- "Just as you overcame fear to come here (i.e., to the
public rally), I encourage your friends and family to join
you."
--"If the people make peaceful movement, this government will
fall in four months' time."
-- "We are the ones who can give a solution to the
government's inconsistent policies; you should speak out."
-- "You should peacefully demonstrate and call for power. We
are saying you should go fom a backwards system to a
progressive one."
-- "We cannot rectify the mistakes of this government; we
must remove it from power."

-------------- --------------
DEBATE ON DIALOGUE WITH EPRDF PRESENTED AS EVIDENCE OF TREASON
-------------- --------------


8. (U) The most recent videos presented as evidence have been
tapes of CUD supreme council meetings from September 2005,
which prosecutors asserted would show that defendants 1
through 39 (i.e., Hailu Shawel, Yacob Hailemariam, and other
CUD senior leadership) were responsible for provoking
strikes; ending peaceful negotiations with the ruling EPRDF
party; labeling the elections as neither free nor fair;

ADDIS ABAB 00001402 003 OF 003


advocating political change through violence; and asserting
that neither the judiciary nor the National Electoral Board
were impartial. In one two-hour long video, mayor-elect
Berhanu Nega explains to the CUD council that the EPRDF has
presented an eight-point agenda for dialogue with a "take it
or leave it attitude" and has refused to entertain any
additions to the agenda. The video captures a contentious
debate among 43 CUD members over whether to continue dialogue
with the government, culminating in a vote in which 32
members voted against continuing dialogue, three voted in
favor, and eight abstained. Following the vote, the issue of
joining parliament is raised. A majority, including Berhanu
Nega, do not want to discuss the issue, but a small minority
persists: recommending that the CUD not join parliament, and
citing the government's ultimatum regarding the dialogue
agenda as evidence the EPRDF is unwilling to enter into a
cooperative relationship. Several members speak out on the
need to join parliament as the only peaceful, democratic way
to move the CUD agenda forward. The meeting concludes with
reading a letter from Hailu Shawel, asking that all decision
regarding the party's next moves await his return the next
day from the United States. CUD members agree to the request
and conclude the meeting.


9. (U) A three-hour video presented on May 17 shows a
subsequent CUD supreme council meeting in which members
debate whether to join parliament. In response to a remark
that change can only be brought about by struggle, which
could endanger one's life, Hailu Shawel states that the CUD
is afraid of firearms, and is capable of a peaceful struggle.



10. (U) Notably, in several videos presented as evidence of
defendants' guilt, some of the remarks that are the most
critical of the government are made by individuals who have
not been detained or charged, including: Dr. Merera Gudina;
former president of Tigray region and ex-TPLF leader Gebru
Asrat; then-UEDF vice chair Beyene Petros; and former
president of Ethiopia (and now an independent member of
parliament) Negasso Gidada. The vast majority of the
approximately 90 defendants do not appear at all in the video
evidence presented thus far.


11. (U) On May 17, the lead prosecutor complained of a news
report on state-run Ethiopian Television that allegedly
stated that the video evidence presented so far was not very
relevant to the charges, causing a delay of the trial. The
presiding judge ordered that a copy of the news broadcast be
delivered to him.


12. (SBU) COMMENT: Observers from foreign diplomatic
missions and NGOs, including ActionAid London (whose country
representative is among the three defendants being
represented by legal counsel), generally share the
observation of state-run Ethiopian Television that the
evidence presented thus far has not substantiated the serious
capital charges against the nearly 90 defendants.
Prosecutors are correct that the videos show opposition
leaders and residents criticizing the government, urging its
removal, questioning the impartiality of state institutions
such as the judiciary and electoral board, and doubting
whether the 2005 national elections would be free and fair;
however, no advocacy of violence, treason, or genocide, can
be found in the evidence presented in nearly three weeks of
evidentiary proceedings. In addition to the 24 videotapes,
prosecutors have listed documentary evidence and audiotapes
(none of which have been presented so far), and could call up
to 367 prosecution witnesses. There remains a large body of
"evidence" that may or may not back up the government's case;
so far, the evidence has not been compelling. END COMMENT.
HUDDLESTON